By Elesha George
An investment of US $1 million, the termination of approximately 500 employees and the dedication of more than 100 staff members who worked for months without compensation, are just some of the sacrifices that had to be made to ensure that LIAT returned to the skies.
On Sunday, November 1, 2020, LIAT made an inaugural flight with just 12 passengers on board, destined for the Commonwealth of Dominica. It was its first commercial flight since the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) appointed an administrator to restructure the 60-year-old entity on July 27.
Administrator Cleveland Seaforth, said “had it not been for the staff at LIAT and I mean the rank and file staff, who have gone to work for months without any pay, we would not have seen that airline in the sky on Sunday”.
He told Observer that since his appointment, restructuring has been difficult, having been faced with numerous challenges due to a lack of funds.
“When I took over the airline, there was a complete absence of funds,” he shared, adding that “we’ve had to be dealing with the creditors – some of them who have been quite understanding and some of them who have not been; we’ve had to deal with maintaining the coverage for both of the facilities here in Antigua and also the planes; we got numerous complaints from the passengers and we’ve had to procure a number services in the absence of cash”.
During all this, Seaforth said they have not been paying the staff because the company simply does not have the money to pay. An estimated 500 staff members who were terminated are still due and entitled to approximately EC $80 million in severance.
The administrator said the laws of Antigua and Barbuda explain how severance will be paid based on ranking. He could not however give a timeline as to when they would be able to start paying severance to these workers.
There are currently about 103 people on staff, four of whom are executive members. Seaforth said that fortunately the restart of limited operations will allow for more than 20 employees to be rehired.
“When I came on board, I think we had 166 employees, I brought it down to 103 and we were at 103 for a little while but not that we are going back with a limited schedule we have found it necessary to call back some employees. So, I would estimate that we would probably go back up by another 20 to 30,” he explained.
“We have kept the minimum amount of staff we needed to ensure that the operation is compliant with the regulations. You might say we’re only going to be flying two planes but the people we have kept are absolutely needed” Seaforth stressed.
He said the entity, once restructured, is going to be “a completely differently-run organisation”, with the government of Antigua and Barbuda willing to invest an initial capital of US $15 million.
Unfortunately, he said everyone will ultimately be terminated as part of the restructuring process.
“All of employees of LIAT, somewhere along in the process, will be terminated as part of the administration process and then either the restructured LIAT or the new LIAT 2020, will rehire those people if needs but in the administration process, all employees will be terminated at some point in time,” he said.
To date, the governments of Grenada and Dominica have given commitment to pay outstanding salaries to the LIAT staff employed within their respective countries.
Seaforth hopes that a private investor will soon collaborate with the government of Antigua and Barbuda so that a decision can be made on how the airline will move forward.
“In reality, I have formed a company called LIAT 2020. That company was incorporated some time in October so it is an existing entity. Whether it goes LIAT 2020 or whether it goes LIAT 1974, I would think that is a decision that is going to be made by the government of Antigua and investor with whom it’s going to partner.
“At some point in time, there is going to be, hopefully, a private sector investor who joins forces to have an ownership in an entity and I think it is at that point in time that they will make a decision on whether they want to go LIAT 2020 or whether they want to continue LIAT 1974,” he shared.